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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Dallin Checketts aerates a client's yard in Layton Friday, March 20, 2015.

LAYTON, Utah — Dallin Checketts began pushing a mower and sweating in the family lawn care business with his older brothers at age 12. Amid full calendars with school, church, sports and other activities, the boys made time to collect their clients’ grass clippings with the ultimate goal of saving money to pay for their looming LDS missions.

At times it was hard to stay the course. It didn’t seem fair that his friends could buy “toys, candy or nicer things.” Then a conversation with his home teacher cemented his resolve to save and serve.

As a missionary, the home teacher had observed this pattern: The greater the missionary’s personal financial investment, the greater his missionary commitment and the more impactful the overall mission experience, Checketts said.

“I would love to have the mission affect me a great deal, so I want to spend a great deal of money on it,” said Checketts, who took the principle to heart. “That’s not to say if you don’t pay for your whole mission you won’t have a good experience, but he noticed a difference. There was a sense of ownership, a sense that you aren’t just here on a two-year vacation. You are here to get something done because you spent a lot of money to get here.”

When he departs for the Peru Huancayo Mission in June, Checketts will be one of many missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have earned enough money to cover his expenses for two years. It’s a goal the church has asked each missionary and family to strive for, unlike the early days when missionaries only survived on faith and the kindness of others. Today many individuals and families face the challenges of financially supporting multiple missionaries, but are also quick to point out the abundance of blessings.

Journey to equalization

In a March 2007 church magazine article, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled missionaries to be self-reliant and learn to work.

“They ought to have a job and save money for their missions,” Elder Ballard wrote in the article, “How to Prepare to Be a Good Missionary. “Every mission president would concur with me that the missionary who has worked and saved and helped pay for part or all of his or her mission is a better-prepared missionary.”

Circumstances were quite different in the early days of the church.

Samuel Smith, the younger brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was the first missionary called to serve. In Doctrine and Covenants 84:77-90, Samuel Smith was instructed by the Lord to go without “purse or scrip,” essentially passing from home to home sharing the Book of Mormon and relying on strangers for food, money and room and board.

As missionaries began providing for themselves and receiving help from home, another problem presented itself. Those called to locations in Europe or the Far East were faced with a higher cost of living while many of those in Central or South America lived on much less.

Finally in November 1990, the LDS Church announced in a letter from the First Presidency that it would implement an equalization plan to standardize the costs of serving a mission, which at the time varied from $150 to $750 a month, “placing a highly disproportionate burden on some families and wards,” according to the LDS Church News. The current standardized cost is $400 a month, which adds up to just under $10,000 over two years.

In April 1991, Elder L. Tom Perry, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said the equalization plan was inspired.

“One of the great blessings of this program is that missionaries and their parents can now project fairly accurately the cost of a mission,” Elder Perry said in his remarks, titled, “Called to Serve.” “Early proper planning can help missionaries become self-sufficient in financing their own missions. It also has the benefit of teaching early in life the rewards that come from honest labor.”

Challenges and blessings

The realization of having four missionaries serve at once hit Joseph and Gaylyn Semadeni of Star Valley, Wyoming, when their seven children were still young. They also knew Joseph's schoolteacher salary wouldn't cover the bill.

So they put their shoulders to the wheel doing odd jobs as a family. They began cleaning an office building in Jackson Hole for a couple of hours a night until someone reported that children were working. The employer replaced them.

They got a gig maintaining the Fairview Cemetery; they moved sprinkler pipe for various farmers; they branded cattle and docked sheep; each June they spent two weeks picking dyer's woad, a noxious weed, for 35 cents a pound; they also raised pigs and sold them at the county fair's auction.

"You name it, we did it," Gaylyn Semadeni said.

But even years away from the mission field, they could see the math didn't add up. They also had a niece with mission plans come to live with them. They prayed for help and soon recognized a demand for a local landscape curbing business. It proved to be the inspiration they needed. The parents learned the business and trained their children.

"That saved our bacon," she said.

Despite having to deal with life's daily trials, the Semadeni family has received many blessings. As a family, they learned to work together, how to run a business with integrity and to not fear doing hard things. They also learned the power of faith and miracles. These are all life lessons and excellent preparation for a mission, Gaylyn Semadeni said.

"The Lord knows your circumstances and where your heart is," said Gaylyn Semadeni, who still has four missionaries preparing to go soon. "Like with everything else, let him guide you and be willing to take a leap of faith."

The Jim and Tasha Parker family of Merrimack, New Hampshire, can relate. They've recently had three missionaries, two sons and a daughter, serving at the same time. Each of the sons, including one who served previously, earned at least $10,000 each prior to leaving through landscaping, construction, snow removal, building maintenance, working in a dental office and teaching piano lessons. Jim and Tasha paid for clothing, shoes, luggage, medical expenses and other items to get them ready. Younger siblings even sacrificed the money they had been saving for a Lego set to help one of the missionaries buy an iPad.

When their oldest son was on his mission, Jim Parker lost his job. Within six weeks he was blessed to receive a job offer for a better position and a higher salary.

Five months after their son and daughter departed, Jim Parker received another offer from a company that promoted him to vice president with more compensation.

"Some may say these are coincidences, but we say they are direct blessings for sending missionaries into the field," Jim and Tasha Parker wrote in an email to the Deseret News.

Their daughter, Anna, decided to serve after the missionary age change was announced, but had spent her savings on a college education. She prayed that somehow she would find the money to go. Anna worked and saved for several months, then received the happy news that her aunt and uncle had offered to contribute. Their generosity made it possible for Anna to go.

"We have seen incredible miracles come to these young men and women when they pray to have the Lord's help in earning this money," Jim and Tasha wrote. "You cannot put a limit on the Lord's ability to help you."

Dan Harris of Tremonton recently returned from a mission in Cambodia. He started saving for missionary service at 10 years old. Through his teenage years he worked alongside his father and brothers in the family construction business. From each paycheck he faithfully paid his tithing and deposited most of what was left in his savings account. When left for Cambodia, Harris had saved more than $10,000.

Two years later, Harris was surprised to find he still had $6,000 in the bank. While he was gone, business thrived for his father, and his parents supplemented his fund so he would have something left over for college.

Working and saving the money helped Harris remain focused on serving a mission and made the experience more meaningful, he said, and he was deeply touched by his parents' thoughtfulness.

"That was quite a blessing and quite the sacrifice on my parents' part," he said. "Now I'm not starting at zero for college."

Future missionaries Spencer Poll, of Syracuse, and Nicole Newbold, of South Jordan, will admittedly fall short of paying for their entire missions but are still earning all they can. They agree the experience has been meaningful.

"Working and saving has helped me to realize how close I am to going, how expensive it's going to be, and other real-world applications. Work is tough," said the 18-year-old Poll, a bus boy at the Pizza Factory restaurant who recently submitted his mission paperwork. "I've learned I need to be responsible in how I'm spending my money. Also, start (saving) as soon as you can because it's a lot of money."

Newbold, who played college basketball at Salt Lake Community College and Southern Utah University, leaves for the Bolivia Santa Cruz Mission in May. An education major, the 23-year-old has tutored math students and worked as a substitute teacher to save for her mission. Her advice?

"Start when you are young and pay your tithing," Newbold said.

Finding a way

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In a 1983 church magazine article, President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made a promise to future missionaries.

"You need to prepare financially," President Packer wrote. "I speak to that young man who doesn't have any idea how he can finance a mission. I do not know either. But I do know this: If you have faith and determine that you will go, there will be a way. Opportunities will come to you as manna from heaven. Do not let that deter you from your duty."

For more tips on preparing financially for a mission, visit LDS.org.

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com, Twitter: tbtoone